After splitting from Birthright Israel two months ago, he’s back.
Shlomo Lifshitz — more commonly known as “Momo” — is president and founder of Oranim Educational Initiatives, formerly the largest Birthright Israel trip provider. Personally greeting each one of his nearly 50,000 travelers at Ben Gurion Airport, Lifshitz was a visible presence on each trip, where he eagerly promoted personal messages like “make Jewish babies” — messages that clashed with the more low-key approach of the program that is committed to offering free 10-day trips for young diaspora Jews.
Now, as the winter trip season approaches, Momo is launching his own remake of the famously free trips, going after the same population that Birthright targets — and even courting some of the same funders. This is the first time in Birthright’s 10-year history that a provider has broken away and launched its own free trip.
He’ll formally introduce Oranim’s revamped agenda during a live Webcast on Sunday.
Though Oranim’s free trips will largely resemble those provided by Birthright, Lifshitz has decided to make a few key changes. He’s opening up registration to Jews up to the age of 30 (Birthright’s age limit is 26), with priority given to those over 23 and a focus on networking young professionals within similar careers.
During the trips, he will give participants at least one free evening away from what he calls the Birthright “bubble,” and he’ll give lectures about how to keep the diaspora alive and solidify Israel’s public image. While he won’t be pressuring participants to make aliyah, Lifshitz said he will teach the groups about their rights as new immigrants and will continue to broadcast his message about marrying Jewish.
“People don’t need to love it,” Lifshitz said. “My conscience tells me loud and clear that, ‘Momo, you have a strong message.’”
Birthright officials declined to comment on Lifshitz’s plans.
Lifshitz intends to finance this winter’s first six buses (240 participants) with his own savings as well as the $50 non-refundable registration fee that he’ll charge applicants. Each applicant will also pay a $10 credit card processing fee as well as a $250 refundable deposit. Lifshitz said he will be able to offer a trip at considerably less expense than Birthright does, spending $70,000 for each busload of participants, compared to the $130,000 Birthright spends per bus. (A figure Birthright officials confirmed.)
Meanwhile, Lifshitz said he is talking to several major Jewish federations about receiving funding for the trips. And he added that an Oranim alumni group is raising money for both future Oranim endeavors and other Israel opportunities.
“I’m also going to go to the Israeli government and just like they’re giving money to Birthright, I’m going to ask them to give money to me,” Lifshitz said.
And he is confident that the numbers already have proven to work in his favor.
During this summer’s Birthright registration period, Lifshitz explained, Birthright was considering shutting down Oranim’s registration portal within 20 hours, due to an overflow of registrants. At the time, Lifshitz said he had 70 percent of Birthright registrants under Oranim’s umbrella, but he eventually had to close the doors on 8,500 of his 10,000 initial registrants.
“I’m an independent, successful Israeli, and they don’t like it,” Lifshitz said of the Birthright powers, though he was unwilling to fight with them. “I’m not going against Birthright at all,” he added.
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